Skip to main content

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD

What you eat is among the most important factors affecting your health and wellness. While there is no single way to eat nutritiously, there are guidelines that may help you choose a healthy diet. The Federal Government released the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that reflect the latest research on diet and health. These guidelines provide a road map for eating healthier and also impact public policy, food programs and much more.

What’s New

Enjoying a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, beans, nuts, eggs, low-fat dairy and lean proteins continues to be the foundation for good health. Coffee drinkers have been given the green light for 3-5 small (8 ounce) cups a day.

Gone are the limits on total fat, and dietary cholesterol.

Limits continue on saturated fat, sodium and, for the first time, added sugars.

Science Behind the Guidelines

Every five years a group of well-respected scientists review the most up-to-date evidence on what constitutes a healthy diet. The committee submits a report to the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture with their recommendations. It is from these recommendations that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were created.

Here are the key recommendations with a brief rationale for each recommendation:


When it comes to fats, the type of fat matters most. Choose healthy fats such as vegetable oils (not coconut or palm), avocados, nuts and seeds. Avoid trans fats from foods made with partially hydrogenated oils. Limit saturated fats to less than 10 percent of calories because they are associated with increased risk for heart disease. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products like butter, meat, and full-fat dairy.


Eggs and foods high in cholesterol have been liberated because research shows that the saturated fat in your diet, more than the cholesterol in foods, impacts blood cholesterol. Enjoy eggs and foods high in cholesterol in moderation like shrimp, but eat small portions of foods like fatty meats that are high in saturated fats.  

Added sugars

For the first time, a strict limit of less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars is recommended. Added sugars like agave, brown sugar and high fructose corn syrup found in sweets, treats, cakes and more are limited because primarily they contribute calories and can lead to weight gain. For most people, this amounts to about 200 calories a day or the equivalent of a 16-ounce sweetened beverage.

Don’t confuse added sugars with naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables and dairy.


Ninety percent of Americans eat too much sodium in food. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report*, it is estimated that most adults eat about 3400 milligrams of sodium a day when they should be closer to 2300 milligrams. Cut sodium in your diet by eating fewer processed foods, choose low-sodium canned foods and use less salt.

Nutrients of Concern

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most Americans fail to meet their dietary requirements for calcium, potassium, fiber and vitamin D. These nutrients continue to be considered “nutrients of concern” because inadequate levels have been associated with health issues. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and dairy—in amounts recommended on—will help meet these important dietary nutrient requirements.

Putting It All Together

To help meet nutrient needs within individual calorie requirements, eat a wide variety of foods within all food groups.

When you focus on eating healthy, whole foods and fewer processed foods, many of the recommendations of the guidelines will fall into place. Making small shifts toward eating a more plant-based diet like a vegetarian or Mediterranean style diet may help in following an overall healthier diet.

You may not need to totally overhaul your diet, instead make small changes according to the recommendations, which can add up to big results.

Regular physical activity also is important to good health and a recommendation within the guidelines. If you drink alcohol, moderation is the watch word—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

* a new window

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and not intended to be nor should be construed as medical or other advice. You should consult your own doctor and/or an appropriate professional to determine what may be right for you.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Edition.

Looks like your browser is a little out-of-date.

Experience at its fullest by upgrading to a newer version of one of these browsers: